Wednesday, 21 June 2017

李紳 - 憫農: Li Shen - Pity Farmers

A lot of effort goes in to growing the food that we eat. That may be obvious, but it can also be comforting to see continuity between what's obvious now and realities enshrined in poetry over 1,000 years ago. 

illustration depicting Li Shen's poem taken from

The following poem is one of the canonised classics of Chinese poetry that appear in the collection Three Hundred Tang Poems. The collection was first brought together in 1763.Despite what the title might lead readers to believe, this cornerstone anthology comprises 326 poems that were written during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). 

chú hé rì dāng wǔ,
weed grain during noon
hàn dī hé xià tǔ.
sweat drops grain down earth.
shuí zhī pán zhōngcān,
who would have thought one lunch,
lì lì jiē xīnkǔ.
each grain hard work.

This poem was written by Li Shen (), who was an official of the Tang dynasty who served as chancellor for a time. During his lifetime Li Shen became renowned for his poems depicting rural life.

I like the following translation from Peter Wang, since it maintains the concise nature of the original .

Farmers weeding at noon,
Sweat down the field soon.
Who knows food on a tray
Thanks to their toiling day?

However, below is an alternative, from Andrew W.F. Wong. It elaborates well on the sense behind the text.

He heaves his hoe in the rice-field, under the noonday sun,
Onto the soil of the rice-field, his streaming sweat beads run.
Ah, do you or don’t you know it?  That bowl of rice we eat:
Each grain, each ev’ry granule, the fruit of his labour done.

illustration taken from Flickr user vacquey
taken from
credit: 易界神刀

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